5 Internship Stories To Restore Your Faith In The Fashion Industry

Since basically the dawn of the modern fashion industry, internships have been an indispensable cog in the system. For without interns, there would be no coffee, and without coffee, there would be no magazine. (Jokes!) In all seriousness, it takes an incredible amount of tenacity, grit, and cleverness to secure one of those coveted spots — and stay afloat until the very end.

But thanks to cultural touchstones like The Devil Wears Prada or Condé Nast's exalted $5.8 million lawsuit of yore, internships of the fashion kind have gotten a pretty bad rap over the past few years, and for good reason. The new world order of internships is a lot more fair, a lot more rewarding, and — it shouldn't surprise you — a lot more competitive. But, more than ever, they're worth it.

Summer internships for 2015 are well underway, and we figured that a bit of motivation is always welcome. So, we spoke to five of today's industry insiders about how their internships really paid off. Read along as these successful women recount the memories they'll never forget, and prove, once and for all, that interning at a high-profile fashion brand doesn't have to mean juggling complicated Starbucks orders up and down Seventh Avenue.

Photo: David X Prutting/BFAnyc.com.
Shiona Turini, consultant
After graduation I moved to NYC with huge goals, and zero internship experience. I was finally able to convince someone to give me a chance, and landed an internship (after being refused three times!) with the Yves Saint Laurent press office under Garine Zerounian. I realized very early that everyone in the building had more experience than I did, but it only made me work harder. I was so grateful for the experience that I hustled, and made sure I was the first intern to arrive, the last to leave, and willing to do all of the tasks that other interns hated. This included preparing carnets: detailed international shipping documents that listed every single item in a box, including provenance, fabrication, and cost. Not only was it the most boring job, but it could become a nightmare if you made a mistake, and one of your shipments got held by customs. I made sure I became the carnet expert because I recognized while not exciting, it was an important part of the process that, of course, no one else wanted to do. When the company had to ship the entire collection for a shoot, and needed someone to travel with the boxes to make sure each piece was accounted for, I was the obvious choice. The boxes ended up being for Tom Ford's last ad campaign, styled by Carine Roitfeld, and most importantly, the first photo shoot I ever witnessed.

Watching from my little corner (arranging shoes, steaming dresses, hanging up jackets) was like magic to me, and became a huge part of my eventual decision to switch over to the editorial side of the business. Not only that, in a spare moment between takes, I chatted with a very sweet, quiet man on set whom I later found out was Stefano Pilati, Tom Ford's successor at Yves Saint Laurent, and, when the brand decided to hire me full-time, he ended up being my boss. That experience shaped my career in so many ways: from the manager (Garine), who is still my mentor to this day, to the oversized framed photo from the shoot that still hangs in my apartment — it's a constant reminder that every part of your job is worth 100% of your effort, even the tasks no one wants to do, and this attitude can directly influence your career path.
Julie Kosin, associate digital editor at Harper's Bazaar
As a journalism student, I was lucky enough to have the importance of internships hammered into my brain from my very first Communication Studies 101 class. I spent the following two summers learning from the best, first as an intern at Nylon.com, and then in the beauty closet at Cosmopolitan. For my last summer before graduating college, I applied to work online — I fell in love with the fast pace of digital at my first internship — at one of my all-time favorite magazines: Harper’s Bazaar.

I landed the internship, and spent the summer taking a crash course in Digital Fashion Publishing 101. From responding to the breaking news cycle, to observing the ins and outs of running a website on a daily basis, I spent five days a week working non-stop — racing to complete every assignment sent my way, pitching my own stories, and even contributing to the social media channels. I loved every minute.

By mid-August, with the end of my internship looming, I was reluctant to return to school for my final semester. When HarpersBAZAAR.com’s editor, Joyann King, asked me to return as a freelancer to help with site production during New York Fashion Week, I jumped at the chance (after promising all my professors, via email, that I would complete all my missed coursework when I returned from the week). Working remotely from school, I continued to contribute short posts to the site. Halfway through the semester, Joyann emailed me, and asked if I’d be interested in joining the team full-time upon graduation, in a newly-created position for the site: social media editor. Naturally, I was elated.

I’ve been an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com for a year and a half now. It’s been amazing to watch the site grow, and contribute to its expansion. But, I’ll never forget that if I didn’t spend that summer two years ago working my ass off, I would’t be here now. I can’t stress enough the importance of putting 150% effort into every task, no matter how menial. You never know what will come out of it.
Photo: Madison McGaw/BFAnyc.com.
Joyce Chang, editor-in-chief of SELF
The summer before my senior year of college, I interned at J.Crew in NYC. I was originally supposed to be in the catalog creation department, but after one week, I was shifted over to be the head of the company's personal intern. These were pre-Mickey Drexler years. At the time, J.Crew was still a privately owned family business, and Emily Woods led the company.

Emily had a big, airy corner office, and her desk was a big table. She had a very clean, uncluttered style, so her office was pristine and open. In the corner was my desk. At age 20, I had the corner of the corner office. It was a mini-desk, like a kid's table at Thanksgiving. Emily was a reserved and private person, and I don't know why she let me into her office that way. It was odd, sometimes uncomfortable — like the time she noticed I was wearing Abercrombie & Fitch, not J.Crew (bad move) — but it was a privilege to be allowed to sit front row in every meeting that she had. I saw and heard with my own eyes and ears how a company is run.

Every once in a while she would say, "Joyce, what do you think?" and turn to me at my little desk. She'd send me home with books and DVDs of creative projects she was considering, for which she wanted a college-age opinion. There was no right or wrong; she just valued fresh perspectives.

That summer, I was always working. I never saw the other interns I'd started to bond with the first week. But, I learned that that's what it's like in the corner office. Emily was an unconventional leader — the most brilliant ones generally are. I think of her sometimes, now that I have a corner office. I feel very lucky to have had such an extraordinary experience, and remember that time, even now at SELF when I ask for the the input of all members of my team, from the assistants to the directors. There's no right or wrong, just what you genuinely like and think. Still, I look at the corner of my office, and I can't imagine having a 20-year-old there.
Photo: Matteo Prandoni/BFAnyc.com.
Cleo Davis-Urman, co-founder and director of designer and creative relations at Tinker Tailor
While I have had the privilege of interning for some pretty amazing people and organizations, all of which have helped shape my career, my most formative experience was working for stylist Rachel Zoe. I was a junior in college, when I picked up during winter break, and moved to Los Angeles. I was so excited to be there, and would have been happy to get coffee and steam clothes, but Zoe, who found my New York work ethic refreshing, had other plans. She took me under her wing, and on day two, I was attending fittings in the homes of celebrities. By my second week, I was assisting celebrities — including Kate Hudson and Cameron Diaz — for the Golden Globes. Fast forward a year later, I was back in New York, and trusted enough to conduct fittings on my own. I learned so much from Rachel, who is not only a fashion icon with impeccable taste and the most discerning eye, but a savvy businesswoman. She taught me to never take no for an answer, and that all of my fashion dreams could be made a reality.
Connie Wang, fashion features director of Refinery29
I had one summer left before graduating, and I knew I had to make it count. I saved up all school year, and moved to NYC for the summer to complete two internships at very different publications. With some added assistance from my parents, I had enough money in order to live, eat (modestly), and that's it — I might have been the only person to leave New York with a lighter suitcase than when I got there.

One internship was at Teen Vogue, and I literally applied because of 'The Hills.' It was a surreal experience for me to be surrounded by the people whose byline I read every day; I couldn't care less about bumping into a celebrity on the street, but seeing editors (and fellow interns!) who I admired in person made me swoon on a daily. I wrote every day for the site, and grew to feel empowered. I learned how to follow stories through from pitch to publish to promotion, and came to understand all the small, crucial, and necessary steps it takes to write a story for a reader (which is so different than when you're just blogging for yourself, like I was with my personal Tumblr).

My other internship was at the now-folded publication, Radar Magazine (don't be fooled by all the tabloid-y content — radaronline.com was a totally different beast a decade ago). I was thrown right into reporting, and my first-ever assignment — a party recap of a Rock & Republic event held at the then-buzzy Beatrice Inn — was a disaster. I had no idea what I was doing, interviewed all the wrong people, turned in a ridiculous article, and it never ran. In fact, I found out that the assigning editor had circulated my rough draft around to the staffers for laughs. It was humiliating, and all I wanted to do was quit. But, I forced myself to talk to editors at the magazine about how I could improve, and went out of my comfort zone many more times that summer to practice (I am still not a party person, though I can fool you otherwise now). By the end of the summer, I was invited back that September to cover Fashion Week for the magazine. My time at Radar was one of those pivotal moments in my life that changed everything for me. I still feel so relieved that I didn't just pack it up after that first disappointment.

Interning is one of the scariest and most amazing experiences I've ever had. It really forces you to grow up, and think about your career like an adult. People won't hold your hand. You've got to fight and ask for opportunities and assignments. But, if your skills and personality match with the job that needs to be done, people will go out of their way to make sure that you have a place at the table — but you have to prove that you deserve one. No one's good at it off the bat, and that's also a humbling experience for those who are used to overachieving. I've met some of my best friends from that summer, gained some lifelong mentors, and set off on a path that's made me one of those incredibly lucky few who can say their hobby is their career.

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